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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

Using Phytase in the First 1,000 Days for a Lifelong Impact

By Michael McBurney

Phytate is a known as an  ‘antinutrient’ because it binds with iron, zinc and calcium to limit absorption from the intestine. In some regions of the world where animal sources of protein are scarce, the most commonly consumed form of phosphorus is linked with phytate present in plant-foods.

Micronutrient deficiencies during the first 1,000 days of life can have lifelong effects. Plant-based complementary foods can contain high levels of phytate. Because of its negative impact, especially when people are relying upon legumes and pulses for protein and carbohydrate, CODEX Alimentarius recommends lowering phytate in complementary foods for small children and older infants.

One means to improve mineral absorption is to degrade phytate. Complete dephytinization of cereal- and legume-based complementary foods increases iron absorption 12-fold (from 1.0% to 11.5%). The addition of phytase, especially with vitamin C,  to iron-fortified low-quality porridge significantly increases iron absorption from a meal.

Adding phytase to food also has the potential to increase absorption of magnesium, calcium and phosphorus, as well as iron and zinc, in regions where mineral deficiencies exist. In their review, Troesch and colleagues suggest using 20 to 320 phytase units per 100 g of flour to improve iron absorption.

A symposium entitled How Can Phytase Improve Public Health Nutrition” was held yesterday at the World Congress of Public Health Nutrition.  Speakers reviewed data on the benefits of adding phytase to micronutrient powders  to help meet micronutrient needs of young children, especially those consuming low-quality complementary foods.

Main Citation

Troesch B, Jing H, Laillou A, Fowler A. Absorption studies show that phytase from Aspergillus niger significantly increases iron and zinc bioavailability from phytate-rich foods. 2013 Food Nutr Bull. 34(2 Suppl):S90-101

Other Citations

Bohn L, Meyer AS, Rasmussen SK. Phytate: impact on environment and human nutrition. A challenge for molecular breeding. 2008 J Zhejiang Univ Sci B doi: 10.1631/jzus.B0710640

Black RE. Global distribution and disease burden related to micronutrient deficiencies. 2014 Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop doi: 10.1159/000354932

Gibson RS, Bailey KB, Gibbs M, Ferguson EL. A review of phytate, iron, zinc, and calcium concentrations in plant-based complementary foods used in low-income countries and implications for bioavailability. 2010 Food Nutr Bull 31(2 Suppl):S134-46

Guidelines on Formulated complementary foods for older infants and young children. CODEX Alimentarius CAC/GL-1991

Hurrell RF. Phytic acid degradation as a means of improving iron absorption. 2004 Int J Vitam Nutr Res doi: 10.1024/0300-9831.74.6.445

Troesch B, Egli I, Zeder C, Hurrell RF, de Pee S, Zimmermann MB. Optimization of a phytase-containing micronutrient powder with low amounts of highly bioavailable iron for in-home fortification of complementary foods. 2009 Am J Clin doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27026